COUNCIL taxpayers in St Helens could be left to pick up the tab for failed busineses because of a legal loophole, we can reveal.
Under an historic scheme designed to boost businesses, town hall chiefs rent out a dozens council-owned plots to local firms.
But if the company closes, the bill for making the site safe - which can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds - is often paid by St Helens Council.
One firm, Willochrome Ltd, which rented a council site in Jackson Street, collapsed last February, leaving the authority with a £100,000 clean-up bill.
Now, as the economy continues to flatline and more firms go to the wall, council chiefs fear they will face a flurry of similar payouts.
Steve Littler, estates and asset manager at St Helens Council, said Willochrome was a “worse case scenario” come true but admitted officers were looking at ways to limit the council’s future liabilities.
An inspection of the site revealed the chemical processing firm had left behind large amount of hazardous substances, including sulphuric acid. It is also feared asbestos will be found at the site.
Mr Littler said: “In these circumstances, the council would normally seek to dispose of its interests in the property.
“Inevitably, this could be replicated with other properties held by the council to a lesser degree and every effort should be made to limit our overall liability.”
Town hall chiefs currently own around 60 sites dotted across the borough which are rented out to various companies.
The scheme is designed to help local businesses, with firms often charged a fraction of private sector rents.